Updated: Aug 15, 2021
For the past month, I have been showcasing female-directed films on my Instagram page in honor of Women’s History Month. In fear of not doing an official shoutout to those woman-helmed movies that rank among my favorites for the blog, I have compiled a list of the cream of the crop. Enjoy brief explanations on why I love these films, and where you can stream them.
American Honey (2016)
Director: Andrea Arnold
Plot: 18 year old Star (Sasha Lane) flees her hometown to join a caravan of misfit magazine salespersons traveling across the midwest.
This is one of my newer discoveries within my March is for the Ladies segment, although that’s not to say I did not know of Andrea Arnold before. The Scottish director is known for her up-close-and-personal look at the lives of people in poverty and other desolate situations. Her short film Wasp is among one of my absolute favorites (it’s free on Youtube), and American Honey clearly borrows a lot from her earlier film; except, of course, this time it takes place in middle America. American Honey left me shellshocked. I had been putting it off for so long because of its nearly three hour runtime, but I can confidently say that all three hours were earned. This a piece of culture- a piece of true Americana. I was transported into the world of these outcasts, a world which feels both familiar and taboo. It does not skimp on realism and it does not avoid celebrating the more beautiful moments. Sasha Lane is very special. See this movie.
Things to Come (2016)
Director: Mia Hansen Love
Plot: Philosophy teacher Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) decides how to approach her new life after news that her husband is leaving her.
I was going to do an entire spotlight on Mia Hansen Love’s directorial approach, but I realize I cannot come up with as many words for her other films as I can Things to Come. I didn’t even like this movie until after it sat with me. Its calm, placid pacing threw me for a loop. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be focusing on. It came to me later that this was simply the story of one woman’s journey. Her entire life had been revolving around her family and her job, and when suddenly, one of those spheres was disrupted, it was like a rip in the spacetime continuum. She wakes up and realizes she is in charge of her own fate. This is a highly philosophical movie which will not be for everyone, but I must give it credit for using Nathalie’s job as a jumping off point for her own introspection, as it certainly got me thinking about my own life. I will turn this movie on if I ever feel lost as I age, much like I would with Frances Ha in respect to my 20s. I highly recommend it.
Director: Melanie Laurent
Plot: A shy teenage girl named Charlie finds a new friend in the outgoing Sarah. However, their friendship is tenuous, and soon Sarah begins to find other prospects.
A coming of age movie. Who is surprised? No one. However, this coming of age movie is considerably darker than the rest. I have a particular affinity for depictions of female friendships, and luckily, Melanie Laurent has a brilliant understanding of the teenage brain. This movie is incredibly stressful in the best way possible. It doesn’t hurt it that it looks quite good too- there are more than one long shots that take “show don’t tell” to a whole new level. Josephine Japy and Lou de Laage are both quite good in the leading roles, and their believable chemistry elevates the film to a whole new level. The ending will haunt you for a few hours, no doubt.
For rent on Amazon.
The Ascent (1977)
Director: Larisa Shepitko
Plot: Two Soviet soldiers are sent to gather supplies from a nearby farm. However, the Germans made it there first.
The late great Larisa Shepitko would be a household name for Russian cinematiques alongside Tarkovsky if not for her untimely death. Her crown jewel, The Ascent, is both numbing and cathartic, the backdrop of snow stifling all feeling as the frostbite gradually creeps up your skin. Of course, there is the last twenty minutes: an intense, mind-bogglingly sensory clash of self-preservation and martyrdom. You can’t just turn twenty minutes of this on: you have to take all 111 minutes to properly engage in the metaphysical experience of the ascent.
Streaming: The Criterion Channel
Le Bonheur (1965)
Director: Agnes Varda
Plot: Francois, a seemingly contented man, lives with his beautiful wife and two children in an idyllic endless summer. One day, however, he begins to fall for a beautiful postal worker.
Here we have an ironically named feature written and directed by none other than the legendary Agnes Varda. Le Bonheur, or Happiness, employs some of the richest colors I have ever seen in film. Under the guise of pleasantness, a parasite is at play: infidelity. Varda weaves a telling tale as the parasite further infiltrates their livelihood, with a distinct use of flowers as a symbol for ripeness and purity. The final ten minutes of montage should be taught in every film class, as far as I’m concerned, leaving the audience with a bittersweet finale for the ages.
Streaming: The Criterion Channel
Little Women (2019)
Director: Greta Gerwig
Plot: Four sisters come of age during civil-war era America.
Yeah, yeah, I can be a little basic from time to time. I love Greta Gerwig, and I love every single actress in this movie. This is comfort food cinema at its finest. I could only ever listen to Alexandre Desplat’s score for the rest of my life and I would be happy. Saorise Ronan is so good it literally gives me chills. The deft mixing of the chronology, the redefining of Amy’s character arc, the innovative ending: it all makes this well-told tale extraordinarily fresh. Every scene looks like a painting. I want to watch this movie twelve more times this week.
Director: Barbara Loden
Plot: young mother Wanda abandons her family and gets caught up with a bank robber.
Wanda is another movie that really had to sit with me before I truly appreciated it. Barbara Loden essentially ran a one woman show in directing, writing, and starring as the lead of this movie. They had a crew of about seven people, shooting on a shoestring budget in Pennsylvania. It is highly existential and more reliant on facial expressions than dialogue, but still super accessible. Funnily enough, it is a favorite film of Miss Isabelle Huppert. There is much debate on whether Wanda is an antihero or a broken soul, although I strongly lean toward the latter. It is prime of the 70s heist genre, but still unique for its female lens. I felt aimless and empty while watching it, which I have no doubt was the intention of the movie. Its restoration looks gorgeous and it should be more well-known!
Streaming: Criterion Channel
These are just a few of my favorite woman-directed movies. If you are interested in seeing more of these female-centric posts, please let me know with a little bit of positive feedback and I will make sure to prioritize it!